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What’s the government going to do for me?

By October 27, 2005katrina

Vocal_citizenLakeview held a meeting last weekend and many people attended.  More than a few were agitated, frustrated and angry.  Why did the levee break?  When will we get power again?  Where will we get the money to rebuild?  Where will we live until we can rebuild?

So many important questions.  So few easy answers, especially from the people who are supposedly in charge.  I’ve certainly been critical of politicians in my lifetime, and I’m not about to stop now.  But, at the same time, I don’t think that a lot of the yelling that goes on at these ‘civic meetings’ is really productive.  Stating questions is one thing.  Yelling and name-calling is quite another.

The truth is that the recovery or rebuilding (whatever you call it) of New Orleans is going to be a long, painful, frustrating process.  We don’t have time to waste venting emotions in public.  If it makes you feel good then that’s good for you.  But it isn’t good for the group as a whole. 

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone criticize a politician.  Excuse me, make that ‘not an hour goes by.’  Sometimes I get swept up in these discussions, acting like I’m in a position to know exactly what should’ve been done by some forlorn public official.  Nagin overreacted on public television?  Off with his head.  Aaron Broussard sent the pump station employees away at a crucial time?  Let’s charge him with criminal neglilgence.

I feel bad for some of the politicians that are getting criticized.  Even if they didn’t do the best job they could have, they certainly were trying to do the right thing.  Who could have done a better job?  Well, obviously it will be one of the people who campaign against them when the elections are held in February.  Assuming that the elections are actually held in February.

These days I don’t know too much.  I only know what I observe firsthand, and not even then sometimes.  So I really don’t know much about Nagin’s performance.  I’ve heard people say he didn’t do a good job of keeping other public officials informed.  If that’s true, then shame on him.  The Katrina recovery obviously requires people to work together, especially politicians.  One of the people I  heard say that Nagin doesn’t share information is a City Councilman.  I heard him say this with my own ears.  I heard this Councilman say that the reason he doesn’t know more about what’s going on in the city is because Nagin didn’t keep him informed.

When I first heard him say this at a restaurant in Baton Rouge, I accepted it without question.  Not long after this encounter I returned to New Orleans.  I spent every spare moment going to new restaurants or bars, eagerly engaging people and trying to find out what their lives were like.  Everyone was eager to talk, anxious to share and receive information.

Two weeks later I ran into Councilman X at Dos Jefes bar, right after he had just got back to town for some council meetings (after which he was going back to his place of refuge in Baton Rouge).  I told him it was a shame about the curfew being at midnight since Dos Jefes was a bar that thrived on late night patrons. He seemed puzzled, and asked if the midnight curfew applied in Uptown.  I told him it did.  He shrugged his shoulders quickly and said "huh, I thought it only applied downtown."  The person next to me asked him if the downtown casino had reopened yet.  Again he shrugged his shoulders, then offhandedly remarking "oh, I have no idea.  I just got back to town."  Then he looked at my friend and asked, "do you know?"

I seriously doubt that Nagin’s reluctance to share information was keeping this guy from knowing what was going on.  His absence was keeping him from knowing, or more likely his indifference.  This guy’s house, which is right around the corner from mine, was perfectly fine after the storm.  So it’s not like he couldn’t have kept living in his own home after Katrina hit.  Of course, there were no restaurants and bars open during most of that time (his constituents didn’t expect him to live in the city under those conditions, right?)

What sort of arrogance is this?  What makes a public official believe he can say things that are so patently ludicrous?  How come the Times Picayune hasn’t done a story on how much time each public official spent away, what the conditions of their homes were, and when they returned to the city?

Why is it that people who are supposed to know things seem to have such difficulty gathering basic information?

After I left Dos Jefes I went to another bar where I met some firemen who had stayed in the city for Katrina and had been in the city ever since.  Four of the seven guys had lost their homes and were living in the station house.  I asked them if the had heard from FEMA about whether they might be getting a trailer to live in.  They said no, they hadn’t.  These are people who risked their lives to perform a public service, not for just one or two days.  They did it for weeks.  Who’s come to talk to them?  Politicians?  Reporters?  Nope, just other rescue workers and some folks coming back to live in the city.

I’m tired of politicans who sob in front of a camera or angry homeowners who shout at town hall meetings.  And I’m tired of the press reporting this sort of thing.  Are we going to help each other out, or are we going to just spout criticism as we push our way to the front of the line?

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems obvious that the cops and firemen who stayed in this city taking care of it (for minimal pay I might add) should get housing before anyone else.  Once those people have homes then we can start shouting about what we are supposed to get.  Let’s get them houses and then figure out who to elect to political office.

Let’s quit wasting time on selfishness and pettifoggery.  Dammit.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

7 Comments

  • Hey, Ernie! I love your website and have been reading it ever since a friend sent me the link post-Katrina.

    You should be elected judge. Thanks for sharing your photos, life, and wise opinions. Love to you & your family.

  • Ernie,You are an alternative to all the rant.

    But I (a foreigner, haha) place more priority on avoiding the Acadian Effect — the expulsion of the poor from New Orleans and the Gulf.Your comments on firefighters and police having first dibs on available housing . . well that is window-dressing for the gov’t using imminent domain to call the shots on housing property. There’s maybe more than potential, maybe there’s intent for abuse.Here’s my take from a COMMENT I recently made on the indymedia.org site in NOLA

    Usufruct is the key mechanism — and the intro deals well with its implications.

    But on the level of housing rights the whole thing looks like a wash-out of any and all implied or guaranteed rights, including equality of all people seeking housing in the ‘private’ housing market.

    If anything, the power of the gov’t to invoke ‘usufruct’ over housing should be used not for gov’t employees or anyone’s employees but to guarantee access to housing for low-income residents returning to New Orleans.

    Look at the people quoted. That’s not their line. This whole thing is being framed in line with social engineering.

    The intro writer mentioned “New Orleans’ historic reputation for political corruption.” I guess that would be a real danger even if the program goes ahead as if it were advantageous to the poor.

    Can you also imagine a scenario with a municipal union on strike and some agency under the mayor’s thumb controls the workers’ housing ? Sounds worse than some Appalachian or Pennsylvania coal town where the company store revoked and then called in credit on any striking worker.

    Don’t get me wrong. Don’t go for the red herring. I don’t mean to imply that some ‘market mechanism’ is a guarantee of affordable housing. It IS a question of who controls the rents and for whom.

  • ernie, i understand your frustrations. today, i have been reading about counseling domestic violence groups, which i am sure seems completely unrelated. i really believe it isn’t though.

    domestic violence groups focus on universality (you are not alone in your struggles), vicarious learning, installation of hope, and cohesion. All of this seems to be core things that are missing in new orleans and on a governmental and community level. DV groups believe that there is nothing more powerful than self-contol and you cannot control chaos but you can control how you interact with it. DV groups focus on the fact that you can not control the outcome of your relationships, but you can control how you contribute to them in the present and the future. I think this is a vital thing to remember… we can’t just complain, argue, and blame others about things… we need to learn from one another, focus on what we have, and work together to create change and promote growth.

  • Vickie says:

    Thank you for continuing to inform us. As you know I’m from Buffalo NY, and all we everhear anymore is an occasional reference to “Katrina”. or a story like last night wherea dog which has been delivered to us from NO was reunited with its owner.

  • Vickie says:

    Thank you for continuing to inform us. As you know I’m from Buffalo NY, and all we everhear anymore is an occasional reference to “Katrina”. or a story like last night wherea dog which has been delivered to us from NO was reunited with its owner.

  • Sara says:

    Good stuff as usual. If anyone in interested in helping those police and firefighters of New Orleans a fund has been established with the help of Wal-Mart and the Whitney. Check it out.

    https://neworleanspoliceandfirefighters.com/NOPD/

  • ann says:

    Keep up your excellent writings !! Make certain to become acquainted with the Onion’s discussion with the White House as to use of the Seal.

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